NAIROBI, Kenya, August 29 (UNHCR) -
A group of former dissidents returned home Thursday from Uganda to
Kenya, a country better known as a place of asylum than a source of refugees.
The 106 people are mostly refugees who were aligned with "Brigadier" Odongo, the leader of a shadowy dissident group that was accused of trying to stage a coup against the government of Daniel Arap Moi in the early 1990s. Others fled political persecution by the Moi regime in the last decade.
Since Moi bowed out of the political scene last December and was replaced by democratically-elected President Mwai Kibaki, Kenyan refugees in other countries have either come home on their own, or signalled their intention to return.
The refugees were overjoyed and flashed the V-for-victory sign as they crossed the border at Malaba. "It's a victory that we managed to come back to our homeland. Thank you President Kibaki, thank you," UNHCR officials at the border crossing quoted some of the refugees as saying.
"They were quite joyous and thanked the government of Kenya for letting them come home," said Juan Castro-Magluff, UNHCR's acting representative in Uganda. "For our part, UNHCR also thanks the governments of both Uganda and Kenya for a very successful repatriation."
Before returning to Kenya, the 106 refugees were given blankets, jerry cans and other relief items to tide them over as they settle back into life in their homeland. The UN refugee agency also gave them $100 per head of household and $50 per dependent to pay for travel to their home areas in northern Kenya.
Kenyan immigration authorities processed the refugees quickly, and permitted six or seven Ugandan women who had married Kenyan refugees to accompany their husbands into the country. Since the refugees had been in exile for up to 10 years, many came back with children who had been born in Uganda.
"We are pleased the refugees feel comfortable enough under the changed circumstances in Kenya to come home," said Castro-Magluff. "Repatriation to one's homeland is of course the best solution of all for refugees."
Most of the refugee families in Uganda were given protection in that country at the height of politically-inspired ethnic disturbances in Kenya's Rift Valley province in 1994 and an upsurge of violent dissidence around the Mt. Elgon area. "Brigadier" Odongo was given refugee status in Uganda as well, but later moved on to Ghana, where he now lives.
Thursday's return effectively closes the book on Kenyan refugees in Uganda. Only two families of Kenyan refugees decided for personal reasons to remain in Uganda and not to take part in Thursday's repatriation.